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After a century-long ban, French legislators voted in mid-April to legalize absinthe, the legendary potion prized by 19th-century bohemians for its hallucinogenic and inspirational effects. Find out more about the spirit’s heyday in the 19th century, its fall from grace in the early 1900s and why it’s once again becoming a drink of choice.
The Origins of Absinthe
Absinthe’s long history dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used the drink’s most famous ingredient, the flavorful plant known as wormwood, for medicinal purposes as early as 1550 B.C. Ancient Greek texts also make reference to wormwood-based remedies, as well as a wormwood-flavored wine called absinthites oinos that may have been the predecessor of modern absinthe.
Absinthe as we know it was first distilled in Switzerland by the French doctor Pierre Ordinaire in 1792; five years later, a distillery began producing the spirit for medicinal use. French soldiers fighting in Algeria in the 1840s were administered absinthe to ward off malaria and dysentery, which it appears to have successfully prevented in some cases. (Wormwood is believed to act as a mild antiparasitic.) Returning home from the front, these men sought out the potent cure-all in the bars and cafes of Paris, where it had gained a following among bohemians and the bourgeoisie.
Absinthe’s Cup Runs Over
Throughout the second half of the 19th century, a parasite ravaged the France’s vineyards, sending wine prices skyrocketing and further kindling the growing rage for absinthe. By 1910, France was knocking back 36 million liters of absinthe per year. Savvy drinkers poured the spirit through a sugar cube placed on a slotted spoon and mixed it with ice-cold water, creating a milky green concoction; though trendy bars around the world now offer absinthe-based cocktails, this is still seen as the traditional method of preparation....
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